Enjoying the wonders of Reffley Wood

Britain has lost around 50% of its ancient woodland since the 1930s, but a precious number remain, and just outside the centre of King’s Lynn you’ll find one of the most attractive and one of the most diverse

Reffley Wood is a very magical place. Just a few miles east of the centre of King’s Lynn, it covers almost 130 acres, has four different entrances, and is absolutely teeming with wildlife.

At various times of the year you can see the comma butterfly, the willow warbler and chiffchaff (a lovely little bird that makes its temporary home in the wood), tree bumblebees and even adders - although if you are lucky enough to spot one you’re well advised to keep your distance.

The wood itself can trace its roots back (if you’ll excuse the pun) to the 17th century, with the oldest parts dating back over 400 years. The mix of Douglas fir, Scots pine, and Corsican pine is a rather later addition (it was generally planted in the 1950s-60s) but some of the magnificent oak, ash, and birch trees are considerably older. 

Don’t pay too much attention to the treetops, however - because there are some true wonders to be found at ground level.

The long-term plan for Reffley Wood is to stabilise and develop the ancient woodland...

Visit Reffley Wood now and you have a good chance of seeing the Early Purple Orchid, which is one of the first of these beautiful wild plants to arrive in early spring - and can grow up to 40cm tall.

It also has a place in ancient history. According to the Greek physician Dioscorides, if a man planning on starting a family ate the orchid’s larger tuber a boy would be born - whereas if his wife ate the smaller one the child would be a girl. 

Although the flower is reasonably common, it’s becoming increasingly threatened by the destruction of woodland and the loss of grassland habitats due to intensive farming - so if you are lucky enough to see one, please resist the temptation to eat it.

This diverse mix of ancient and broad-leaved woodland, together with new plantations and new native woods was once owned by the Bishop of Norwich, but was transferred to Henry VIII during the Reformation, shortly after which it became a deer park and was bought by the Bagge family. It then spent some years as an enclosed pasture before finally returning to woodland.

But the site’s heritage may well stretch back even further. Flakes of flint found in the area suggest the wood was once home to a community of ‘Beaker People’ in the late Stone Age, their name coming from the distinctive drinking vessels usually found in their graves. 

In 1997 Reffley Wood was acquired by The Woodland Trust thanks to donations from local residents and grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The largest woodland conservation charity in the UK, the Trust has planted almost 50 million trees since 1972 and now maintains over 1,000 sites across the country.

Its long-term plan for Reffley Wood is to stabilise and develop the ancient woodland, plants and trees and to promote its natural regeneration - and to maintain full public access while minimising their impact.

Playing an important role in the area’s biodiversity, there’s always something to see at Reffley Wood. At this time of year you’ll see the trees budding to life after the winter, and that will be followed by a chorus of birds enjoying the new growth. Next month is the best time to see (and smell) the wild garlic carpeting the woodland floor, and at the end of the summer don’t miss the wide range of leaf colours from the mix of trees.

There are several paths winding their way through the wood, and the site is generally flat, making it the perfect location for a gentle walk in one of the most picturesque spots in Norfolk.

The fact that it’s so close to the centre of King’s Lynn makes it even more remarkable. And even more precious.

For more details and information on Reffley Wood, please see the relevant page at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

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